Does Computer Memory Affect Internet Browsing Speed?

by Josh Fredman

Your computer memory, or RAM, is an essential part of using the Internet. Everything you download passes through RAM before going into temporary file storage on your hard drive, and it takes a lot of RAM just to keep the browser itself running. Your usage of RAM definitely affects your Internet browsing speed, and if you also want to run many applications at the same time, then getting the best Web experience means managing your computer's memory usage wisely.

System Capacity

Web browsers, and the operating systems they run on, generally become more complex over time, requiring more memory to run smoothly. For example, if you have 4GB or less of RAM on your computer, then running your Web browser will use a significant amount of your RAM even under optimal conditions. If you find that your browser uses up more than half of your RAM, it may be worth upgrading your computer's total RAM capacity.

Running Other Applications

Every program you run uses RAM, and if you run too many at once they compete with each other for those finite resources. This includes running a high number of tabs in a browser. If your Internet performance gets sluggish, you can often fix it by closing other programs or unneeded tabs inside the browser itself. In Google Chrome, press "Shift-Esc" to launch the Chrome Task Manager, where you can identify the RAM usage of individual tabs, allowing you to spot excessive memory hogs. Firefox and Internet Explorer, as of May 2013, do not have this feature yet. However, you can view computer-wide RAM usage by right-clicking on the taskbar and selecting "Start Task Manager."

Long Browsing Sessions

If you use the Internet for a long time, the amount of RAM your browser consumes will slowly increase, with a commensurate drop in performance speeds. This is because of something called "memory leaking," where design flaws in the browser itself, the operating system, the add-ons you use or the Web pages you visit cause a cumulative wastage of RAM. Left untreated, your Web browser will eventually become unstable and crash. Resolve this issue by restarting the browser, or in some cases by rebooting the computer.


All major Web browsers offer add-ons, supplementary third-party programs you can install along with the browser to add new functionality or change the look and feel of the browser interface. Add-ons do not have the same quality control restrictions of a browser's core features, and thus they often have unknown flaws and bugs. Many of these can result in excessive RAM usage, making the browser slow and eventually unstable to the point of crashing. If you suspect an add-on is slowing down your browser, restart the browser in safe mode, which disables all add-ons. If this fixes the problem, then restart the browser in normal mode, and then disable your add-ons one at a time until you find the culprit.

About the Author

Josh Fredman is a freelance pen-for-hire and Web developer living in Seattle. He attended the University of Washington, studying engineering, and worked in logistics, health care and newspapers before deciding to go to work for himself.

Photo Credits

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